Fort Mill Times

Fort Mill will share cost of keeping cops in schools

Faced with budget shortfalls and the fading hope of receiving $2.7 million in federal stimulus money, Fort Mill school leaders wondered how they could keep resource officers from local police departments in local schools.

"Our first thought was that we were not going to be able to keep an officer at our middle and high schools," Leanne Lordo, assistant superintendent for finance and operations, said about the program that puts six officers in local schools.

Town Manager David Hudspeth addressed the issue during a town council workshop. "The schools will not be able to fund the resource officers this year," he told the council. "That creates an issue for us."

The allies joined financial forces.

"They came to the table and offered to share the cost," Lordo said.

For at least 10 years, the district has funded salaries and fringe benefits for the school resource officers, Lordo said.

Meanwhile, the Fort Mill Police Department has provided vehicles, uniforms and other equipment to assist officers, said Capt. Andy Robinson.

"Just having officers in the school is a deterrent to school crime," he said. "It helps students feel more comfortable. When they have problems, they can come to the officers and speak with them."

But for the district, a downturn in the economy triggered change.

This year, the district's budget earmarked $431,776 for the program, Lordo said.

The anticipated partnership with the Town of Fort Mill paves the way for the school district to save more than $200,000 next year. School leaders have budgeted $197,196 to cover the district's share, she said.

Meanwhile, the Town of Fort Mill's preliminary budget for 2009-2010 proposes absorbing salaries and fringe benefits for two-and-a-half officers, said Chantay Bouler, town finance director and a member of the school board.

"It's about strengthening the partnership with the school district," she said.

"They (the town council) recognize the importance of safety at school levels."

The town's share will be about $145,000, Bouler said.

Currently, the team of school resource officers include four from the Fort Mill Police Department as well as one officer from the York County Sheriff's Office and another from the Tega Cay Police Department, Superintendent Keith Callicutt said. The resource officer from the sheriff's office is not slated to return next year, he said.

"We are in negotiations with Tega Cay," he said. "Our desire is that next year we will have five [officers] from the Town of Fort Mill."

An officer is assigned to the district's three middle schools and both high schools as well as Fort Mill Academy, he said. Springfield Middle School is currently covered by an officer from the sheriff's office, but the schools are a potential annexation project for the Town of Fort Mill, he said.

Keeping officers in schools promotes student and administration safety, Callicutt said.

"These officers provide not only assistance to the administration but they also help young people (understand) that law enforcement is a positive force in lives," he said.

"Our SROs are not the bad guys. They are the good guys. Our students know this."